New London Embassy
Owner U.S. Department of State
General Contractor BL Harbert International LLC
Engineers ARUP (civil and MEP) and Thornton Tomasetti (structural)
Landscape Architect OLIN
Subcontractor Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.
Covered with sail-like transparent solar screens, the new U.S. embassy building in London is literally a sparkling addition to the brownfield area of the city. A flag raising ceremony this January by U.S marines formally inaugurated the new building in the Nine Elms district.
Rising from perimeter colonnades, the 12-story, 518,050-sq-ft steel and concrete framed cube-shaped embassy sits close to the River Thames’ south bank. It is partially surrounded by a new lake and a grassy mound, both providing natural features and also some protection from attack.
Designing, fabricating and installing the building’s high-performance facade system to be both visually striking and secure “required extraordinary effort,” according to the project team.
Three sunny sides of the 213-ft-tall building are shaded by numerous curved, transparent screens. The ethylene tetrafluoroethylene screens are shaped to reduce solar glare while allowing light to reach the interior through the laminated glazing.
KieranTimberlake scooped the design contract, beating 36 other submissions in a 2008 State Dept. design competition. BL Harbert International secured the building’s $542.4-million early contractor involvement contract in 2013, with a 2017 completion deadline.
Since BLHI does all its own work overseas, it found adapting to the U.K. subcontracting model challenging. To manage site work by subs, the company partnered with local contractor Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd. This and other challenges, such as ground contamination and a busy urban site, contributed to delays the team says it “worked together to mitigate.”
The decision to build at the remote Nine Elms site came after the option of renovating the existing U.S. embassy in upmarket Grosvenor Square in central London was discounted. Only a new building could provide “a modern, secure and environmentally sustainable embassy,” noted U.S. ambassador Robert Tuttle in 2008, when the project was announced.
The original landmark embassy building lost its diplomatic function for practical reasons, such as vulnerability to attack. The sale of the Grosvenor Square building and other U.S.-owned London real estate assets funded the Nine Elms project entirely, according to the embassy.
The old embassy is now being converted into a high-end hotel, owned by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.